right to life of climate deniers, children in poverty, and future
evaluation of the deleted and withdrawn 2012 text "Death penalty for
global warming deniers?"
February 2017, revised October 2019
the last days of 2012, sensationalist media reported that I had "called
for" the death penalty for (influential) climate deniers. Those
who had actually read my internet blog knew that was not true. But that
didn't stop the deniers distorting my message beyond recognition. After
all, that's what deniers do. Astonishingly, the media listened to the
If the media had reported that
people might have begun to
climate deniers have successfully prevented
progress toward global emissions reductions for decades, while being
fully informed of the consequences,
are therefore primarily responsible for the future premature
deaths of hundreds of millions of people, especially in developing
single climate denier can in this way indirectly
cause a million future premature deaths--an urgent but
My text was not perfect, but it did attract attention to a neglected
issue that is crucial for
the survival of
humanity. Meanwhile, with every
passing year, humanity is inching closer to the ultimate cliff of
self-destruction and extinction. The probability of failure is
rising with every year of missed opportunities.
Those who don't believe that human self-destruction is possible or
imminent will not understand the following text. If you fall into
that category (which is likely, because almost everyone is acting as if
they do), please first visit this link or this and
read what the science of climate change has been telling us for decades.
The main point
If you are still reading, welcome and thank you for your patience. Let
me first try to express what I believe is the most important point of
Human lives are the most valuable thing that we know. Every human life
has the same value. This is true regardless of anything else, including
cultural background, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability--even
It follows that matters of life and death are of primary importance.
These points should be obvious, of course. Almost everyone can agree
with them. The question then is how
to take these points seriously. How to put them into practice. If we
actually do that, the implications are enormous.
The most important issue in climate change is not its effect on the
economy (profits, jobs and so on). It is not even the effect on
irreplaceable ecosystems such as ancient forests or coral reefs. Those
things are enormously valuable, of course, but they are not the most
valuable thing. The most important issue for us as humans is the number
of people who in the future will die prematurely as a result of climate
It is tempting to claim that the natural ecosystems of the earth are
just as valuable as humans, or even more so. From that viewpoint it
would not be so bad if humans went extinct but plenty of other species
survived. I know that many people are thinking this way, but I am not
one of them. Instead, I feel a deep allegiance to my own species,
and I believe that everyone involved in the struggle to save global
climate ultimately feels the same. All of us humans (even the most
extreme "eco-warriors") have a deep and undeniable bias toward our own
species. If confronted with a choice between saving a human and saving
a representative of another species, we will always choose the human.
We cannot reasonably claim, for example, that the Amazon rainforest is
more valuable than the people who live there, except insofar as all of
humanity depends on the Amazon rainforest. For reasons of this kind, I
will focus here on the value of human lives and assume that ecosystems
are also enormously valuable to the extent that we humans cannot live
without them. For that reason alone, the legal work on ecocide by Polly
Higgins and others is enormously valuable and should find its way into
every national legal system and indeed every constitution. For those
who find my human-centered approach arrogant or species-ist, please
accept my apologies. I am aware of the problem and respect your
Our emissions are causing the deaths of future people. In other words,
we are killing future people with our emissions. This is the naked
truth that almost no-one has the courage to state. l am using the word
"kill" in the everyday neutral sense of ending a life, regardless of
the presence or absence of malicious intent, and regardless of any
awareness of the consequences of the actions that cause the death.
in this neutral sense, is the main issue, and it should be the main
thing that we talk about when we talk about climate change. If we want
the killing to stop, we have to think of effective and appropriate
strategies to stop it. If we talk merely about reducing emissions, for
whatever reason (such as preserving arctic ice, or future quality of
life in rich countries), all the time carefully avoiding any mention of
the main issue, we are unlikely to succeed.
My personal perspective, and the role
For many years, I flew to and from Australia every 1-2 years, from
Europe or North America. I had no idea that my travel was causing
future deaths, but it was. Every time a passenger jet flies to a
distant destination, a fraction of a future person is killed. The fuel
burned by a typical passenger jet during a few long-distance return
flights is enough to cause the death of one future person (more).
Until about 2000, I was naively enjoying traveling wherever I
wanted to or could afford. I really love to travel! During the next ten
years or so, I realised that flying could have serious consequences,
but I was not yet ready to face the truth, namely that it is causing
future deaths. Since about 2010, the fatal consequences of burning
large amounts of fossil fuels have been clear to me. It is probably
also clear to most of my academic colleagues, family members, and
friends. Many of them are still flying wherever they want, or so it
seems, although they belong to the best-informed people.
In 2014, I decided never again to fly to an academic conference unless
invited. Just recently (late 2019) I decided never to fly again except
in an emergency. Never. I have many dear family members and friends in
Australia some of whom I may never see again--although I am seriously
considering taking the train from Europe to Shanghai, followed by
sailing ship, after I retire. But it is obviously even more
important to reduce the future impact of climate change, which will
affect those family members and friends much more than not seeing me.
Hardly anyone is prepared to make that kind of comparison, but it is
surely obvious and important. Incidentally, I am not sure what I
mean by "emergency"--but if it ever happens it will probably be a
matter of life and death.
Some people will object to this argument, claiming that aviation
represents only 2% of global emissions. That is a very misleading
statement. First, aviation has been growing steadily for decades and
now contributes about 3% of global CO2. Second, the contribution of
aviation to global warming is at least twice that figure (i.e., more
than 6%) due to the effect of other greenhouse gases and their complex
interactions with the atmosphere. Third, only a small proportion of all
people ever fly (less than 10%). For those people, flying represents a
large part of their carbon footprint--typically about half. During the
1990s and 2000s, flying presumably represented more than half of my
personal carbon footprint. That is probably still true for many
academics and business people. Fourth, aviation is steadily growing,
with no end in sight. There is no realistic sustainable alternative.
For the next few decades at least, the best way to reduce aviation
emissions will be to reduce aviation. Flying, in short, is a big deal.
The main way people in rich countries can reduce their
emissions is by not flying, driving, eating meat, or having children.
For these reasons, I don't own a car and mainly use a bicycle for
travel around town. I go to conferences and holidays on trains and
buses. I don't have any meat in my fridge at home, although I do
occasionally eat some (mainly chicken or fish). I am interested in the
political question of reducing birth rates both in rich countries
(where each additional person adds an enormous amount of CO2 to the
atmosphere during her or his life) and developing countries (where the
birth rate is sometimes still far too high--a problem that can be
solved by alleviating poverty and improving education for both girls
Please join me. It's easier than you think. If you lose friends, you
will gain more.
There are many kinds of climate denial. We are all climate deniers to
the extent that we are not talking directly about the fatal
consequences of our personal emissions. Hardly anyone is prepared to
talk openly about the future deaths that we are causing. The taboo
is almost universal. In that sense, almost everyone is a denier.
If we love our children, we have to stop pretending this
problem does not exist. We have to address it
directly, and decide solve it. We have to start an open
discussion. We have to admit that we, the citizens of the rich
countries, are killing both current and future people, mainly in poor
In the neutral sense just described, the word "kill" is appropriate for
this discussion, because it describes directly and exactly what we are
doing. We know that our activities are causing future premature deaths,
but we are continuing with those activities (driving cars, flying in
airplanes, eating meat, having children, voting for the wrong political
parties, and so on) as if we did not know.
Climate change, therefore, is not primarily a question of physics,
chemistry, and biology. Nor is it primarily
a question of economics and the natural environment. Climate change is primarily a question of life and
death for millions of people. It is primarily a legal and ethical
issue. When this message gets through, we might finally see significant
progress toward a global solution.
The role of law
traditional method of stopping killing, as applied for almost all
humanity's history and still considered appropriate by roughly half of
the human population, is to identify the people who are primarily
responsible, and kill them. In other words, the death
penalty, also called capital
punishment. That this method is contradictory, is obvious: you
a culture of killing by reinforcing it. You don't stop a culture of
anything by reinforcing it.
The death penalty is relevant for this discussion because, as I argued
in the previous section, climate change is primarily about
killing. That is the most important problem that we need to solve. The
main, overarching question that we need to answer is this: How do we stop people killing each other?
One important step would be to stop the death penalty universally. Of
course this is crucial, and I personally will never stop fighting for
it. As my 2012 paper clearly showed, there is no conceivable situation
in which the death penalty might be justified--not even causing the
deaths of a million people. The wild discussion that followed the
discovery of my blog showed that an enormous number of people agree
that the death penalty is never justified. In fact, my paper may have
helped many people to make up their mind about that issue. Perhaps many
climate deniers changed their mind about the death penalty. If so, that
would have been big progress, even if they did not change their mind
There are many other questions to answer if we honestly want to
stop people killing each other. How do we stop the international arms
trade? How do we close the international tax havens, which are known to
be important drivers of poverty in developing countries? How do we stop
the exploitation of developing countries by multinational corporations?
Of these issues, stopping the death penalty is not the most important,
because the number of people who die prematurely in connection with the
death penalty (perhaps a few thousand every year) is much smaller than
other anthropogenic death rates -- people who die prematurely as
result of human actions. The number of people being killed in violent
conflict is much higher. The number dying in connection with poverty is
higher still. Every year, about ten million people die prematurely in
connection with preventable poverty. This enormously shocking death
toll is as a consequence of human greed and the failure of governments
to fairly regulate the global economic system. In addition, human
greenhouse-gas emissions are killing about ten million future people
every year (more).
Altogether, therefore, human actions are effectively putting roughly 20
million people per year on death row.
Allow me to repeat that point for fast readers who may have missed it.
Our emissions are putting untold millions of people on death row. Take
Bangladesh for example. The probability that a child in that country
will die in connection with climate change is now roughly 50%, by which
I mean much more than 10% and much less than 100% (more).
The probability that a prisoner on death row in any country
will be executed is also very roughly 50%, because sentences are often
changed to life imprisonment. Moreover, prisoners on death row often
wait many years for execution. The difference between the two cases is
astonishingly small. Our emissions are truly putting untold millions of
people on death row.
The role of law
Every legal system in the world formally prohibits killing, in the
sense of one human causing the death of another. If we want to solve
these problems, that is a great start. But there is a lot of legal work
to do. Two main kinds of legal reform are necessary.
The first is to end the death penalty universally. That is not as
difficult as it sounds. The leaders of China and the US could together
decide to do it tomorrow, if they wanted. After that, most other
countries that still have the death penalty would be under pressure to
The second urgent legal reform is to clarify that climate change is
primarily about the right to life of today's children and future
generations. To legally defend that right, we must identify and
prosecute those who are causing the greatest numbers of future deaths.
Killing is never justified except in self-defense. Therefore, and given
that our values are primarily based on the value of human lives,
preventing killing is the most important goal of law. It follows
from this, again purely logically, that the law must identify those
people who are doing the most killing today, that is, those who are
responsible for the largest numbers of premature human deaths, and
prevent them from doing that. Today, those people, as I explained in
detail in my 2012 text (and the arguments were basically correct), are
the most influential climate deniers.
The death penalty obviously achieves nothing. But other more
appropriate forms of punishment can achieve a lot. It is certainly
a good idea to restrict the freedom of people whose actions are causing
millions of future deaths. And nothing could be more important that
actually doing that. If we don't, we (or our children) will likely pay
the ultimate price, which is human extinction and the destruction of
absolutely everything that we hold dear.
The point is not just to say these things, but to act on them. To my
knowledge, the legal profession is still essentially silent on this
issue. Like almost everyone else, legal scholars are in denial about
the existential consequences of climate change. I may be wrong--I am
not a lawyer or legal scholar, so I don't know the detail and I'm not
involved in relevant discussions.
The contradictions in my text
My 2012 text addressed existential issues of this kind, but failed to
explain some points clearly. My thoughts were heading in the right
direction, but the text was work in progress, and I was working
A few sentences in my text were carelessly formulated, for
which I apologized. These
were the sentences upon which the deniers pounced and cited out of
context. Their goal was to destroy my reputation, just as deniers
regularly try to destroy the reputations of climate scientists who are
courageous enough to speak the truth about climate change in public.
Amazingly, countless intelligent, kind, well-informed people were
fooled by the arguments of the deniers. Those people could easily have
seen the contradictions in my original text and asked themselves why
they were there. They could also have asked themselves why I deleted
and withdrew the text. I deleted it as soon as the first
arrived. It didn't know about Google Cache and could not prevent the
subsequent re-appearance of the text in the internet.
The biggest issue
Allow me to repeat the main issues in different words.
change and its many interacting negative consequences will probably
cause the premature
deaths of a billion people (mostly
children living right now) and all but destroy most developing and
tropical countries. There has never been a bigger risk. If humanity
survives climate change, we will look back and say there was never a
tragedy. Today, Holocaust comparisons are taboo; in
future, climate change comparisons will be taboo.
Today, when people in all walks of life (researchers,
politicians, business people, general
public including children) talk about the threat of climate change,
they talk about the effect on ecological, economic, political, and
social systems, all which are enormously important. But the fatal
consequences for hundreds of millions of people is even more important,
and we are still carefully avoiding the topic as if those people
did not exist or did not matter.
On top of that, thousands of
people all over the world are
publicly lying about climate change
and its causes. For decades, this
unprecedented criminal culture of truth
distortion has been preventing the world from responding
constructively, creating a global
The law is supposed
to protect the public from dangerous people, but the influential
climate deniers --
perhaps the most dangerous criminals of all time -- are not
being tried and punished. On the
contrary, they are often handsomely rewarded for their efforts by
fossil fuel industry. Enormous numbers of
be saved if the International
Criminal Court tried the most
influential climate deniers and jailed those who were found
guilty of crimes against humanity. But the law
currently does not even recognize influential climate denial as a crime.
The role of poverty
Why is climate denial so dangerous? The reason has to do with
The most common cause of premature death in coming decades and
centuries will be a combination of two main factors: climate change and
poverty. People with money will probably be able to adapt. Others will
not, with often fatal consequences.
Every day, over 10,000 children die in poverty in developing countries (more).
They usually die of hunger or disease, but the ultimate cause is an
global economic system. Every single death is a
tragedy. It puts things in perspective to get up in the
morning and think of those 10,000 children who will die today. How do
their 10,000 mothers and 10,000 fathers feel about that? How do we, the
readers of this text, feel
This is happening for two reasons.
are ignoring it. The media are constantly full of disasters
that involve many deaths, but the disaster with by far the most deaths
is not mentioned. The problem
could be addressed if it was an election issue in rich countries, but
it boils down to basic childhood skills: honesty
and sharing. We adults are supposed to teach these skills to our
children, but since the rise of "Fridays for Future", our children our
trying to teach them to us.
global economic system is spiralling out of control. Most of the
is in the hands of a small super-rich
minority (including 2000 billionaires). The imbalance is undermining
democracy and it's getting worse. If we are concerned about anything,
we are more concerned about that.
Global poverty is a problem that can and could be
solved. The United Nations and many other organizations are working
hard on it (more).
But as long as we elect politicians that allow tax havens to exist
and corporations to have more power than governments (more), the forces preventing
progress will be bigger than the forces promoting it.
Climate change is
another problem that can and could be solved, and many organizations
are working hard on it, but politicians, corporations, the global rich,
and widespread apathy are standing in the way. Again,
and sharing are lacking.
Poverty and climate change: A deadly
The current global death
rate in connection with poverty will
double toward the end of the century due to climate change. It
to see what else could happen, given the number and diversity of
disastrous predictions in mainstream peer-reviewed scientific journals.
If this assumption is correct, our current
are killing 10,000 additional
future children every day. In fact, today's greenhouse emissions are
probably killing many more future people than that -- perhaps 10
million per year (more). I am
using the word “kill” in the neutral sense of
“causing death”, regardless of intention.
In other words: our dishonesty, negligence, and indifference
are killing 20 million people per year. Of those, 10 million per year
are dying now as a consequence of preventable poverty, and 10 million
will die in the future as a consequence of preventable climate change
combined with preventable poverty. The sum of these two
contributions exceeds the death rate due to violence during the
Second World War.
For those of us who regard human lives as our greatest good
life as equally valuable, this is the world's biggest problem. But it
is carefully suppressed,
even by those with a "global outlook". On the whole, not even the
"greenies" are talking about the future death toll from climate change.
What can we do about that? One option is to attract attention to the
basic rights of vulnerable people
and how they are being trashed by the global
rich, the political right, and the climate deniers. Today, anyone can
write a text on that topic, put it in the internet, and send it to
social media. Anyone can write about the hypocrisy of a global economic
system that likes to talk about human rights and carefully
protects the rights of the rich while at the same time quietly ignoring
massive rights violations. Anyone can write about the mega-deadly
consequences of our greed and indifference.
The difference between a question mark and an exclamation mark
the last days of 2012, sensationalist media reported that I had "called
for" the death penalty for (influential) climate deniers. But my text
clearly had a different aim: to defend the basic human rights of
countless millions of people, given that
millions of people may die from starvation or disease in future
famines. Moreover, an unknown number may die from wars over diminishing
To attract attention and ruffle some feathers, I chose a deliberately
misleading title: "Death penalty for global warming deniers?"
People of diverse political colors and stripes pretended not to have
seen the question mark and responded as if it
had been an explanation mark.
But the answer to the question in the title was clearly stated in the
text. I had clarified my total
opposition to the death penalty at three different points:
I have always been
opposed to the death penalty in all cases,
and I have always supported the clear and consistent stand of Amnesty
International on this issue. The death penalty is barbaric, racist,
expensive, and is often applied by mistake. Apparently,
it does not
even act as a deterrent to would-be murderers. Hopefully, the USA and
China will come to their senses soon.
mass murderers should not be executed, in my opinion. Consider the
politically motivated murder of 77 people in Norway in 2011. Of course
the murderer does not deserve to live, and there is not the slightest
doubt that he is guilty. But if the Norwegian government killed him,
that would just increase the number of dead to 78. It would not bring
the dead back to life. In fact, it would not achieve anything positive
at all. I respect the families and friends of the victims if they feel
differently about that. I am simply presenting what seems to me to be a
note that I am not directly suggesting that the threat of execution be
carried out. I am simply presenting a logical argument. I am neither a
politician nor a lawyer. I am just thinking aloud about an important
I repeatedly questioned my own arguments, and the ironic,
satirical flavour of the
conclusion implied that the whole text was to be taken
with a grain of salt.
People will be
saying that Parncutt has finally lost it. But there is already enough
evidence on the table to allow me to make the following prediction: If
someone found this document in the year 2050 and published it, it would
find general support and admiration. People would say I was courageous
to write the truth, for a change. Who knows, perhaps the Pope would
even turn me into a saint. Presumably there will still be a Pope, and
maybe by then he will even have realised that condoms are not such a
The text implied two further links between climate change and the
death penalty without stating them directly:
climate deniers are death penalty supporters. They want the death
penalty for the biggest crimes,
which they themselves may be committing. As Walter Scott once
commented, "Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practise to
of countries that have completely ended the death penalty have
something to be proud of. But there's a catch. Our emissions are
condemning millions of future people to premature death. That is
remarkably similar to the death penalty, and we are causing it.
totally oppose the death penalty in every conceivable
case and I always have. But here’s the thing: if the world
had agreed to limit the death
penalty to people who cause a million deaths, as I proposed in
2012, two big problems would have been solved. First,
all criminals currently on death row in all countries would have had
their sentences commuted. Second, the International Criminal Court
would have tried the most influential climate deniers; as always in the
ICC, punishment would have been limited to life imprisonment. If
that project had been successful, we might have celebrated two
victories at once: the end of the death penalty and the end of
influential climate denial. Denial would have gone underground.
Projects to limit global emissions would finally have had a chance.
In that case, and assuming that climate denial is the biggest hurdle
standing in the way of climate action (and has been for decades), the
threat of human extinction would have become much smaller. We
would now be well on the way to getting climate change under control.
In short, if humanity is to survive with a reasonable quality of life,
here is what needs to be done:
all, the following points are surely beyond question:
the death penalty completely worldwide.
influential deniers for crimes against humanity.
not too late to start addressing these issues legally, but it soon will
be. We don't have much time.
value of a human life is our most important value.
climate change is mainly caused by humans.
people are contributing much more to the problem than others.
change will cause hundreds of millions of premature deaths -- perhaps
most influential climate deniers know that their actions are causing
enormous amounts of future death and suffering.
Why totally oppose the death penalty?
I oppose the death penalty in all cases for the usual,
One reason is that killing is justified only in
self-defence, to save one's life or the life of others from an
immediate threat. The death penalty is not self-defence; it is
legalized, premeditated killing.
The death penalty is not a solution to anything. You don't stop
the killing by participating in it. This principle applies to the
punishment of all crimes, including the worst ever. Following the
Nuremberg trials in 1945-46, ten prominent Nazis were hanged, although
they could equally have been jailed for life. The death penalty
achieved nothing except to continue the cycle of killing that the
Nuremberg trials were supposed to stop.
Another reason to unconditionally reject the death penalty is
the inconsistency of arguments used by death-penalty fans. Many want
death penalty in response to the most
serious crimes, but the most serious crimes are not even
recognized as such, let alone punished. From a human-rights
perspective, the biggest crime of all is to cause the death
of an enormous number of people. That
frighteningly often, and my "scandalous" text offered
a series of examples. According to this criterion, the most influential
climate deniers are the worst criminals of all time.
is remarkable thing that many death-penalty advocates are also climate
deniers. Many such people are members of the US Republican Party, for
example. How can you
support the death penalty for the most serious crimes, while at the
same time contributing to what might be the most serious crime of all
time? My strong recommendation to those people is to consider their
own interests and change their views on both topics, urgently. In case
the penny has not yet dropped, let me spell it out. Philosophers like
to make the following logical connection: if (i) all men are
mortal and (ii) Socrates is a man, therefore (iii) Socrates is
mortal. If you think (i) the death penalty is justified for the biggest
crimes, and (ii) you are committing one of the biggest crimes, (iii)
conclusion might we draw from that? And whose idea was that,
originally? It certainly wasn't mine. This contradiction has been out
there for decades.
Some argue that the death penalty is needed as a deterrent, but
empirical evidence is lacking. The death penalty is not effective at
murder, which often happens in anger. In the
moment, murderers may forget about the consequences. Moreover, potential
murderers are not necessarily more afraid of death than of life
imprisonment. These are well-known reasons for
ending the death penalty forever (more). Influential
climate deniers are a different case. They may work deliberately and
carefully, and they may be well informed and have plenty of time to
consequences of their actions. But they are still unlikely to risk
either the death penalty or life imprisonment. While the threat of
imprisonment might achieve a lot, relative to that, the death
penalty would achieve nothing.
The trolley problem
My statement was related to the trolley problem
in ethics. Is it ok to kill one person to save the lives of five
people? If a runaway trolley (train carriage) is about to run over and
kill five innocent people, is it ok to divert the train onto another
track, where it will run over and kill only one, or is it ok to push
one person onto the track in front of the trolley, sacrificing one life
to save five? Is a person who does something like that "evil"? Is a
person who agrees that it is ok to do something like that "evil"? Or is
it the other way round -- is a person who fails to do that (or
disagrees with doing that) "evil"? There is no clear answer to this
question, but the disagreement does suggest that killing someone is
about five times worse that failing to take reasonable action to
prevent someone's death.
The trolley problem was implied when I wrote
"I wish to claim that it is generally ok to kill someone in order to
save one million people". This sentence, as formulated, is obviously
true, because the number
one million is so much bigger than the number five. When it
comes to defending the right to life of a million
people we have to remember that every single person
has the same
inherent dignity and the same right to live. Multiply that by a million
and you have an enormous problem. But even that
doesn't justify the death penalty for mass murderers, because the
death penalty is never justified (for the usual reasons). A prisoner
can reliably be prevented from causing any (further)
harm simply by keeping him or her in prison. No further action is
Foundations of 21st-century
For those readers who take issue with aspects of these arguments, allow
me to formulate some basic assumptions before we proceed:
human life has inestimable value.
value of a human life is the universal foundation of human value
living member of human society has essentially the same value
regardless of gender, cultural background, material possessions,
socio-economic status, skin color, physical/psychological condition, or
guilt/innocence. Children may have more value than adults because they
have more life-years to lose if they die.
- We evaluate
ecosystems in terms of their value for humanity, now and in the future.
Because we depend on ecosystems for our survival, their value is
enormous -- comparable with the value of very large numbers of people.
the size of a tragedy in which many people die corresponds
approximately to the number of deaths.
time, effort and money that we put into preventing a future tragedy
should be proportional to the risk. Risk is a product of damage
and probability. The probability of climate change causing the
premature deaths of a billion people (over a period of a century or
more) is now approaching 100%. Therefore, climate change is the biggest
challenge humanity has ever faced.
we should be putting a large proportion of our available time, effort
and money into mitigating global climate change (comparable with trying
to win a war). As part of that effort, we should be legally
protecting the human rights of billions of vulnerable people by
effectively and permanently ending the activities of the most
influential climate deniers. That in turn involves prosecution and
has always been a matter of life and death, in certain situations. Wars
often start with publicly proclaimed lies or logical fallacies (e.g.,
"You are threatening to attack me, therefore I will attack you first"). From
this we learn that honesty
can be a matter of life and death for millions of people. Today,
honesty has become a matter of human survival or extinction. Therefore,
the law should enforce honesty in cases where dishonesty has serious
consequences. Climate denial is the most serious such case.
I became aware of the legal and ethical problems surrounding the death
penalty in the 1980s, I have opposed it unconditionally. Since the
have been a member of Amnesty International, first in the
UK and then in
Austria. During that time, I have participated in
countless urgent actions and letter
writing campaigns to stop the death penalty in different countries --
both in specific cases
universally. From 1999 to 2010 my yearly donation to Amnesty Austria
€87,20 (converted from
Austrian shillings), and since 2011, I have donated €100 Euros
year. Amnesty is more important today than ever. We need your
support. Please consider a yearly donation.
From 2000 to 2010, I became
increasingly aware of a basic ethical
problem. What is more important to me personally --
the basic rights of a billion children in developing countries, or my
well-being? If I had a chance to promote their rights, but only by
risking my well-being, would I do it? Hopefully I am not the only one
asking that question.
So I became politically
the area of interculturality and human rights (more).
The aim was to reduce racism and xenophobia by
applying insights and findings from research in contrasting academic
disciplines and collaborating with practitioners in NGOs, government,
education and so on. The project culminated in an international conference
that inspired a second
conference and diverse
projects. I was also increasingly interested in world hunger and child mortality and the
astonishing tendency of rich countries to pretend this is not happening
or to underestimate the ethical consequences.
But I can only do this work of this kind in my limited spare
time. So I
decided to identify today's most important issues on focus on
them (more). And here's what I realized:
human lives are the
foundation of our value system and every human life is equally
valuable, the problem of premature mortality is even
serious than everyday racism. But premature mortality is itself about
because most of the victims are or will be black.
The aim of my text
Many people agree that climate change is
today's biggest issue, but if you ask why, you will get different
answers, for example:
are extremely serious issues. No question about that. But from a
human-rights perspective, none of them is the main reason. The main
reason is that climate change will cause hundreds of millions of
premature deaths. Perhaps billions.
will cause massive biodiversity loss. Rainforests and coral reefs
will be destroyed.
will ruin the quality of life of our children and grandchildren.
will cause wars and mass migration.
will mean the end of human civilisation.
Given this background, my main intention in 2012 (and it was clear from
the first page of my text) was to defend the right to life of
those countless millions of people who will suffer most
from climate change. In the public discussion that followed, hardly
anyone mentioned that point, as if those people
in developing countries did not exist or did not matter. Today,
How much longer do we have to wait for the right to life of a billion
people in developing countries to be taken seriously?
realised that I had intuitively applied a series of known techniques
for attracting attention with headings (more).
heading was short, concise, and understandable out of context. It
started with powerful keywords, addressed important
current issues, asked a
question, excited curiosity, and both surprised
and frightened the reader. I
had chosen a provocative title and taken a personal risk to attract
attention to a series of critically
important issues that were evidently being suppressed. How many deaths
will climate change cause, especially in developing countries? Who will
be held responsible? What will be the legal consequences? Today,
Extinction Rebellion is again exploring radical, unconventional,
personal-risk-taking ways of
attracting attention to the world’s most serious problem.
Needless to say, I
belong to their strongest supporters.
The following headings would have been more appropriate:
if I had written that, no-one would have noticed. As it
happened, many people read no
further than my heading. In fact, some did not even read to the end of
the heading! We live and learn.
influential climate deniers for crimes against humanity
influential climate denier can cause a million future premature deaths
My statement was deliberately ambiguous. On the one hand I explained in
detail why the death penalty is never justified. On the other; I
proposed limiting the death penalty
to people who cause a million deaths, and
explored the consequences. The purpose of this contradiction was
to attract attention to the world's most important issue from a
human-rights perspective and start a public discussion.
The strategy was
successful. Many people announced their total opposition
to the death penalty and started talking about human rights. Some
did this in public for the first time. In retrospect, that made the
defamation, and cyberbullying seem worthwhile. I realised later that
every self-righteous person
who presented me as "evil" was a small victory for human
rights, even if those people had misunderstood my central message.
A billion human lives
change is not only about
polar bears and coral reefs. Of course polar bears and coral reefs are
very important. Enormously important. But climate change is also threatening
the lives of
a billion people. It could kill
100 million people by 2030 and many
more in the long term.
rising CO2 concentration
of the earth's atmosphere, the laws of physics, the world's burgeoning
population, and the well-known
multiple consequences of global warming for humans -- all of that taken
-- will probably mean premature death for a billion people over the
next century. What happens after that is anybody's guess.
That is true even if global
emissions fall rapidly in coming years and warming is limited to
2°C. Beyond that, every additional degree Celcius could
(over a long period) kill an additional billion people.
The number one billion is a rough, order-of-magnitude
of millions of children who are alive right now in developing countries
and further hundreds of millions who will be born in coming decades. These
people will die early (as infants, children or young adults) with a
certain (shockingly high) probability as a result one or more of the
known side-effects of climate change, such as rising sea
freak storms, changing precipitation patterns, disappearing glaciers
affecting water supplies, ocean acidification, more frequent bushfires,
loss of biodiversity and so on. The list is long. Many of
these side effects will reduce food
supplies, causing famines.
Today, about 10 million people are dying prematurely each year because
they are living in poverty. Without poverty, they would not die early.
This number has been steadily decreasing in recent decades due to
economic growth and international development projects. It is now
presumably as small as it will ever get. The rate of premature
mortality in connection with poverty will increase steadily from now
on, for at least the next century, due to climate change.
At the start of my text (in the third paragraph,
after two short introductory paragraphs) I had written that
the earth's temperature rises on average by more than two degrees,
interactions between different consequences of global warming
(reduction in the area of arable land, unexpected crop failures,
extinction of diverse plant and animal species) combined with
increasing populations mean that hundreds of millions of people may die
from starvation or disease in future famines.
Soon after that came this passage:
without global warming (GW) (or ignoring the small amount that has
happened so far), a
billion people are living in poverty right now. Every five seconds a
child is dying of hunger (more).The
Nations and diverse NGOs are trying to solve this problem, and making
some progress. But political forces in the other direction are
stronger. The strongest of these political forces is GW denial.
Right across the political spectrum people responding to my
text acted as if they had missed these central
points. Today, we are still
treating billions of human lives as unimportant by
comparison to the right of rich countries to burn as much fossil fuel
as we want.
That is not an empty claim. I have evidence. Many readers found the
following passage especially shocking:
I don't want to be
a saint. I would just like my grandchildren and great grandchildren,
and the human race in general, to enjoy the world that I have enjoyed,
as much as I have enjoyed it. And to achieve that goal I think it is
justified for a few heads to roll. Does that make me crazy? I don't
think so. I am certainly far less crazy than those people today who are
in favor of the death penalty for everyday cases of murder, in my
I had chosen the expression "heads will roll" for its ambiguity. It
normally means that some people will be severely punished. It seldom
actually refers to the death penalty. I had already explained that
the death penalty is never justified and never achieves anything. For
those who thought of the death penalty while reading this, I was
presenting a logical argument.
Those who objected to the argument were treating the life of one
western middle class person (a convicted denier) as more important than
the lives of a million people in developing countries (future victims
global warming). A million! Lurking behind this reaction
is a psychological phenomenon called implicit
racism, which allows us rich white people to ignore the enormous
continuing death toll in developing countries in connection with hunger
and preventable disease and get on with our everyday lives (in
paradise, as Phil Collins sang).
The lives of a billion
children now living in developing countries will really be cut short by
warming. I am not exaggerating. Doubters should
IPCC homepage and
read in detail about the modern world's most
important issue. Read the 2018
report about the difference between 1.5°C and 2°C of
warming. Ask yourself: What will happen in countries that
already have a hunger problem when population increases at the same
time as the food supply decreases? What will happen to hundreds of
millions of climate refugees, forced to move by water wars or rising
seas, when other countries refuse to accept them? What will happen when
climate change indirectly causes old diseases to migrate or new
diseases to emerge from the melting permafrost? And so on. The list is
If we don't start talking about this, the victims of our
cowardly silence will be our children and
grandchildren, after we die of old age -- still pretending to be
innocent. The question, then, is whether we care about our children and
grandchildren or not. If we care, we have some work to do. If we
do nothing, we evidently don't care.
Climate change and human rights
change is today's
biggest human rights issue, because
it will seriously affect
or kill more people than any other category of human-rights violation.
The converse is also true: human rights are the most
important climate-change issue.
You wouldn't know that from the public discourse about climate change,
which often focuses on
money. How much will it cost to reduce emissions? How many jobs will be
lost? How much will climate change cost us in the future? What about
Discourse about human rights
similarly avoids climate change. Often, it focuses on individuals.
Of course it is essential
to apply international pressure to free prisoners of conscience and
commute death sentences, again and again, for as long as it takes.
That's what we do in Amnesty
International. But it is also necessary, and
even more important due to the enormous numbers of affected
people, to consider the basic
rights of unidentified climate change
victims. As Amnesty emphasizes, every
person has the same inherent value, independent of skin
color, gender, age, public profile, legal record and so on.
say, this principle applies to influential climate deniers in the same
way as it applies to millions of peasant farmers in Bangladesh whose
livelihood is threatened by rising sea levels, to give one of many
In the rich countries, we are living our lives as if this is not
happening. We are in denial about both poverty and climate. The
good news is that the preventable child mortality rate has
been falling, slowly but surely, for decades. The bad news is
climate change will make it
increase again and could double
by the end of the century. This approximate prediction follows directly
knowledge about physical, social and political aspects of the
situation. But almost everyone is ignoring the future death toll in
connection with climate change. Instead we are talking about other
climate change -- or avoiding the topic altogether.
Just because the future death rate is hard to predict doesn't
mean we should ignore it!
Climate change is also racist, affecting
people more than white, although being caused by white people
more than black. It will affect women
more than men and children
more than adults, making it sexist and agist.
are universal. The right to life is obviously the most important
right; this point is unfortunately missing from the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights (United Nations, 1948),
presumably due to an ambiguity about the death penalty that remains to
this day. What is clear is that everyone has the right to life, rich or
poor, black or white,
adult or child, man or woman, guilty or innocent. Influential climate
deniers have the same right to life as the children currently
living in poverty in developing countries whose future lives could be
destroyed by climate change.
message has evidently not sunk in, because still today in 2019 hardly
anyone is talking about the right to life of a billion people. Since
2012, many have become more aware of the urgency of climate
change. But there is still precious little literature or
about long-term future death tolls, nor is there much willingness in
the academic community to address this issue. I experienced this when
trying to publish an article
on that topic in different relevant journals.
Why are people are not talking about the right to life of a
billion people? Perhaps they disagree with the following two
sentences? Every person in the
world, whether black or white, female or male, young or old, poor or
rich, guilty or innocent, has the same right to live. Even influential
climate deniers who indirectly kill millions of people by blocking
climate solutions have the same right to live.
From today's perspective, even the executions that followed the
Nuremburg trials in 1946 were not justified, although the Holocaust was
clearly the worst crime in history. The death penalty is
climate change a form of genocide? The short answer is no, but the
comparison is important. Climate change is even worse than genocide in
that it will probably cause hundreds or even thousands more deaths than
case. But it is not as bad as genocide in the sense that the main
actors (the influential
climate deniers) do not intend to kill anyone. They are merely
criminally negligent. From a human-rights perspective, there has never
been a worse case of criminal negligence. From my original text:
the GW deniers would point out straight away that they don't intend to
kill anyone. ... The GW deniers are simply of the opinion that the GW
scientists are wrong. ... [They are] enjoying their freedom of speech
and perhaps they sincerely believe what they are claiming. They can
certainly cite lots of evidence (you can find evidence for just about
anything if you look hard enough).
The only thing that could be worse than climate change, as it will
probably develop during the coming century, is
human extinction. Human extinction is possible (and increasingly
climate change gets
out of control,
that is, if global mean surface temperature starts to increase of its
due to climate feedbacks, with no help from human emissions. Which is a
good reason to wake people up with a scandalous statement.
Climate denial and the death penalty
Noam Chomsky has
described as the US Republican party as the world's
most dangerous organisation, mainly
because of its contribution to global climate change. But his
claim would be true even if we considered only US militarism. US forces
have bombed 24 countries since
is a map), killing untold millions of civilians, and pushed
mainly (not only) by Republicans in the background. If you are looking
for an example of the most sinister and hypocritical modern
here it is.
Those Republicans who claim to be Christian should get out
their Bibles and
read what Jesus said and did. Read about humility,
and caring for other people, especially those who suffer from poverty,
illness, or discrimination. Read about telling the truth and exposing
hypocrisy. Read about living simply and eschewing luxury. Read about
forgiveness, turning the other cheek, and pacifism. Jesus probably had olive-colored
skin and was himself a victim of the death penalty.
Roughly every second US-American is a death penalty
In 2012, roughly the same proportion were climate deniers (depending on
definition); the proportion has fallen since then, but is still
shockingly high. Probably much the same applies to the whole world. It
follows that many of my numerous critics were death penalty
supporters themselves, falling somewhat embarrassingly into the
additional trap of hypocrisy. These commentators deliberately ignored
the paragraph where I explained
in detail why the death penalty is never justified. Instead,
scandalized my thought experiment about the death penalty for one
climate denier, as if that were more important than
the premature deaths of a million people due to
death penalty is racist, at least in the USA, because the proportion of
black victims is greater than the proportion of black people in
the general population. My statement was also
about racism. The climate denier in my fictional scenario was
presumably white; the
victims were presumably black. If you wanted indirect confirmation that
sexism, is almost everywhere in the hidden assumptions of people of all
political persuations, the public discussion that followed the
discovery of my text was a startling new piece of evidence (more).
For some people, it seems, one white life is more valuable than a
million black lives. A million!
The question I asked in my scandalous text could be rephrased like
this: Are influential climate
deniers death-penalty candidates according to the logic of 100
million American death-penalty supporters? I implied this
question for two reasons:
first, to expose an inherent flaw in the arguments of those people
(and many other
people all over the world), and second
(and more importantly) to protect the right to life of a billion
in developing countries.
Influential climate deniers have the same right to life as each one of
those billion children. But contrary to their wild claims, the deniers
are not in danger,
nor did my text pose the slightest danger to anyone. I was quite sure
of that when I wrote it:
death penalty is
traditionally used by the powerful to control the powerless. Influential death-penalty
candidates can save themselves by pulling
strings in the background. It is unfortunately not true that "everyone
is equal before the law".
a legal context, it would be practically impossible to accuse a
climate denier of causing a million deaths. Attribution
difficult. There are too many uncertainties surrounding the future of
global climate, the (social/political) causal connection between
climate denial and emissions, and the (physical) causal connection
between emissions and climate change. The accused
would argue that the proposed connections are too
uncertain. They could get around arguments based on risk assessment
theory, because there is little precedent for such quantitative
arguments in law. All of this would happen as if the hundreds of
millions of victims of global warming did not exist.
Courageous or evil?
Perpetrator or victim?
if the International Criminal Court
suddenly started trying influential climate deniers for crimes against
humanity, and found some of them guilty, there would be no death
penalties. The ICC completely rejected the death penalty long ago, for
the usual good reasons. The
ICC will not change its mind even if half the people in the world think
the the death
penalty is an appropriate punishment for an influential
climate denier -- or anyone else who knowingly causes millions of
Most responses to my text fell into two categories. Total strangers
who care about the future of our children wrote to me
confirming that the accusations were false,
thanking me for my courageous contribution, and regretting the
"shitstorm" (a new word for me). Other
total strangers who evidently do not jumped at the chance to
present themselves as
and someone else as the villain. In other words, they tried to
the perpetrator-victim relationship.
As I later found out, many of them were already experienced players of
In fact, I was neither perpetrator nor victim. As far as climate change
these two points (both of them!) and their
implications were widely recognized, we would be moving faster toward a
perpetrators are influential climate deniers, and
main victims are a billion children in developing
I was standing on the sidelines, trying to tell the truth about
this unfolding 21st-century tragedy and thinking aloud about possible
solutions. That's not always easy in a media environment that is so
deeply infected by "fake news".
Meanwhile, the media seemed to be obsessed with my guilt or
innocence. Was I evil? Should I
be allowed to teach innocent students?
In fact, the only "crime" I had
committed was to defend the right to life of a billion people. I had
also considered how this goal could really be achieved in
practice. For that purpose,
we need to ask difficult questions about the social and political
forces that are driving climate change, and consequently how many
future deaths influential climate deniers are causing. From a
human-rights perspective, these
are today's biggest legal issues,
yet they continue to be ignored. My crime was to dare to write
about a taboo topic.
Climate death row
What does the death penalty have to do with climate change?
I proposed that, if the
death penalty was limited (by
global agreement) to individuals who knowingly
cause a million deaths, some of the most influential climate deniers
would become candidates. At the
same time, all prisoners on all death
rows in all countries would be released. I don't recall seeing any
discussion of this idea -- whether in the media, the internet, or the
emails I received. I will return to it below.
is another reason why I included this horror scenario in my text. Every
person whose future life is
threatened by climate change is effectively on
death row. This
applies in particular to a billion innocent children in developing
countries. Unlike the influential climate deniers in my fictitious
death-penalty scenario, whose lives are not in the slightest danger,
those children really will die prematurely. Our
emissions really are killing them. Where is the outcry about that?
In this way, the death penalty and climate change are related
political/moral issues. If we are genuine about our intention
to promote universal
human rights, we should dare to compare. If we want to end the death
penalty everywhere, we also have to save a billion innocent children
from climate death row.
Climate death is similar to the death penalty in other ways.
the most obvious is this: When climate change victims die, their
death is anthropogenic
(caused by humans). Another
similarity involves the probability of premature death. The
uncertainty of the death penalty is a cruel
aspect of this archaic form of punishment. US
death row typically
wait for ten
Many people in climate-vulnerable countries such as Bangladesh
(and many other developing countries) will wait for a similar period
for the day
when they become climate refugees, not knowing where if anywhere they
will live in future, or if they will survive the journey.
So which is worse?
knowledge, the answer is neither. From the
victim's viewpoint, premature
death is always horrific.
by firing squad, hanging, fatal
injection, or electric chair (death penalty)?
by hunger, disease, heat stress, or violence as a result of climate
change and poverty?
being the case, we can now compare
the human cost of the death penalty with the human cost of poverty and
climate change. The
public response to my 2012 text suggested that the average person
considers the death penalty to be a more serious problem than either
poverty or climate change. The public discussion
focused on the death penalty, although I had written at length
about all three issues, starting with poverty and climate change.
In fact, for those of us who consider every human life to be equally
valuable, poverty and climate change are even more serious issues than
the death penalty. In order-of-magnitude estimates, over
the coming century perhaps 100,000 people will die prematurely as a
result of the death penalty (currently perhaps 1000 per year in China
alone). That is profoundly and
incomprehensibly schocking, but the human cost of poverty and climate
change is much more so. During the same period, perhaps a billion
people (10m/year) will die prematurely in connection with poverty, even
in the absence of
climate change. Perhaps a further billion will die prematurely as a
result of climate change. That makes the global human cost of poverty
and climate change
10,000 times bigger than the global human cost of the death penalty!
The death penalty is certainly a bigger crime
than poverty or climate change because of the premeditated intention to
kill. Those who are contributing most to poverty and climate change are
merely being negligent and do not intent to kill anyone. But the
climate deniers and fossil-fuel CEOs are also fully informed about the
consequences of their actions and are proceeding anyway. Moreover,
a global perspective the mortal consequences of poverty and climate
change are much, much worse than the mortal consequences of the death
penalty. To what extent might "mass murderer" might be an appropriate
term under these circumstances?
Climate change will also cause
an enormous number of species to go extinct. They too are on death row.
There is a real danger
that homo sapiens will be one of those species. If so, climate change
could be a death sentence for humanity.
If we took that threat seriously, we might be more serious about
cutting emissions. A more likely scenario is that people with more
money will survive, whereas those with less money will perish. Again,
that can only mean one thing: cut all emissions urgently.
The main point of this discussion is to protect the right to
life of a
billion children in developing countries. If we want to protect their
rights, we have to prevent actions that are threatening them. To do
that, we have to attract attention to the problem and present
convincing arguments. If almost everyone is
ignoring the rights of a billion children -- and that is really what is
happening, still today -- it is appropriate and
necessary to shock people into waking up.
What I am really "calling
I don't know how many media reported that I had "called for" the death
penalty for climate deniers. Both climate deniers and sensational media
had an interest in exaggerating my message. Some German-language media
the word Forderung
(demand). I guess they were desperate to sell
That was not the only exaggeration. Some deniers
claimed that I wanted to "kill all deniers". In fact, I had proposed
saving untold millions of lives by means of a legal procedure that was
confined to the most influential deniers. In practice, a legal
procedure of that kind would have resulted in nothing worse than fines,
jail sentences, and public embarrassment.
Perhaps the most serious distortion was to avoid the main issue -- the
deadly risk that climate change poses for a billion people. Although
this point was clear from my text, it was ignored as if those people did not exist.
Hardy anyone seems to have realized that our emissions are putting
hundreds of millions of people on climate-death row, and that this
problem is even bigger than the death penalty, simply because the
numbers are so enormous.
After that, something even more remarkable happened. Countless people
(often with good education and good intentions) took the hysterical
claims of the deniers and sensationalist media seriously. They did that
without referring to my original document, or without reading it
carefully. They even ignored my first page, in which I explained my
Those well-meaning people also failed to realize how astonishingly
unscrupulous and dangerous influential climate deniers can be. What do
you do with people who are prepared to risk the lives of untold
millions of people (and perhaps all of humanity) to protect their
short-term financial interests? From a human-rights perspective,
influential climate deniers are up there with the worst criminals of
all time. I thought people knew that; they should at least have
realized it after reading my text. Evidently, many or most did not. The
deniers' exaggerated, misleading interpretations were repeated by the
media and even academic commentators as if they were true -- as if
deniers were a reliable source of information.
Those who actually read my 2012 text know
that it did not directly "call for" anything. I had chosen my words
carefully. I had repeatedly used the word "propose", implying an
discuss (French: pro
+ poser). This
intention was correctly recognized by Austria Presse
was entitled "Uni-Professor stellt Todesstrafe zur Diskussion"
(university professor puts the death penalty up for discussion / raises
issues about the death penalty). After all, there is a
difference between "proposing" marriage and
"calling for" it. A chef who "proposes" a delicious dessert is not
demanding that customers eat it. An academic
who writes a "research proposal" is offering some interesting
claiming that they have potential -- not
a grant agency to fund the project.
The text you are
now reading is different. I am now calling
for several things.
International Criminal Court should identify and try the most
influential climate deniers. If found guilty of the charge of
indirectly causing millions of future deaths, they should be jailed for
life, to secure what is left of justice for untold future millions of
climate victims and systematically suppress climate-denial culture. As I
From a scientific viewpoint, there is no doubt that influential climate
deniers are indirectly causing
millions of premature deaths in the future. That could
be demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt in a court of law by inviting
expert witnesses to provide opinion and evidence within their area of
Until now, convictions of
murder or manslaughter have only been possible if
justice demands that these traditional restrictions be lifted.
That would have important and possibly far-reaching implications for
theories of justice,
including natural law, social contract, utilitarianism,
consequentialism, distributive justice, property rights, and
direct causal connection
could be demonstrated between the action and the death,
dead were individually identified, and
conviction occurred after the deaths had happened.
But we don't have time
for a long, complex,
abstract, academic discussion. We can't wait until the end of
civilisation before realising that the most influential climate deniers
are among the most guilty people in all of human history and finally
deciding to convict them. At that late stage, the legal profession (or
what is left of it) will have other things to worry about.
More generally, I am "calling for" the following:
the taboos and the "elephants the room". Start talking about the real
truth, and care about it. Honesty and caring are related to
each other. Both are in short supply.
everyone agrees that all people are equally valuable. Put this basic
principle of human rights into practice. The biggest
problems are those that affect the most people the most
that human lives are more important than money or jobs (employment),
focus on lives. Instead of
balancing present financial
costs of mitigation with future financial
costs of adaptation, balance present human
costs of decarbonization with future human
costs of climate change.
devote more time, energy, and money to bigger problems and less to
smaller. That is the best way to sustainably improve any
situation. Focusing on smaller problems and neglecting larger ones (as
often happens in
politics, the media, and private conversation) is a
recipe for disaster.
need more honesty, compassion, and political will. We need
to decide to
address the problem seriously, at last. Are we capable of making an
honest decision and sticking to it? If millions of individuals make the
the problem can be solved. Only then will the burning
of fossil fuels, the destruction of forest, and the production of meat
and concrete rapidly slow down and approach zero.
reduce all greenhouse-gas emissions in all sectors. The
indirect killing of future
people has to stop, and it has to stop now. Not in ten
years or even
next year, but now. If I'm
"calling for" anything, that's it.
A solution that takes human
rights seriously will mean fast economic changes that
bring global economic turbulence. But nothing can be more turbulent
than what climate change will bring later this century. From that
viewpoint, these are reachable goals.
It's no longer a question
of research to reach them. We now understand the physics, chemistry,
biology, geology, technology, economics, psychology, and sociology of
climate change in
What is a climate denier?
2012 text included a link to "desmogblog". The intention was to
clarify the concepts "climate denial" and "climate denier" by providing
examples. This was necessary because the terms are used in different
ways, as I will explain below. Incidentally, I have never had any kind
of contact of any kind with anyone involved in desmogblog -- neither
before nor after my 2012 text. I simply found their page in the
Climate deniers are experts in the art of lying
and truth distortion. They deliberately misinterpreted my link to
desmogblog, claiming that the link turned my text into a
"death threat". The people listed by
desmogblog, they claimed, were the designated victims.
Needless to say,
that was patently absurd -- typical denialist nonsense. My clearly
and repeatedly stated proposal was to limit the death penalty to
people who cause a million deaths. This idea can only apply to the
most influential climate deniers. At the most, only a handful of
by desmogblog could possibly fall into this category.
Moreover, there is a big difference between making a
death threat and discussing a possible legal procedure. In any case, it
was only a link. Give me a
what is a climate denier, in fact? Like autism, climate denial is a
spectrum. Unlike autism, most people are on the spectrum, somewhere.
Most people reading this text
are climate deniers in the weak sense of not doing anything significant
to reduce their personal carbon footprint or that of people in
their sphere of influence, or not supporting climate action on a
political level. I was a climate denier of this kind for a long time
and I have a
big lifespan carbon footprint. We are acting as if climate change was
happening, was not caused by humans, or was not an existential threat
to humanity. We pretend not to know that the golden age of human
civilization is drawing to a close and things will probably get
incrementally worse on a global scale every decade for the next
century. We realise, but refuse to admit, that our present extravagence
and indifference is causing the future suffering of our own children.
The science is speaking, but we are not listening. We are sleepwalking
A smaller number of people are climate deniers in the strong sense of
publicly claiming that climate change is not happening, not caused by
humans, or not an existential threat. An even smaller number are influential
climate deniers who promote the burning of fossil fuels or
prevent climate action from
happening, and thereby indirectly cause enormous suffering in the
future, especially in tropical and developing countries where people
are particularly vulnerable.
For decades, influential climate deniers have
been threatening the basic
rights of all people everywhere. Motivated by personal
financial gain, they have
been preventing progress toward climate solutions by suppressing
important scientific information, confusing the public, and hindering
progress at global
My 2012 text was not about all climate deniers, however defined. It was
only about influential
climate deniers -- specifically, those influential enough to cause
million deaths. More generally, I was talking about
anyone who might by any means cause a million deaths. Those who wanted
to misrepresent me intentionally got this wrong and pretended I wanted
to "kill all deniers".
Given what we know about the main causes and effects of climate change,
a single influential climate denier could
indirectly kill a million future people. By "kill" I mean "cause death"
or "end lives prematurely". Thought
if the number was exactly one million? What if we knew them all by
name? According to universally accepted principles of human
rights, every one of those 1,000,001 people (including our climate
denier) would have the same inherent
value and the same inalienable rights. Not one of those people
would deserve to die
Who is guilty? Who is racist? The ethics of
The outraged climate deniers, and many others who fell into the trap of
taking climate deniers seriously, eagerly presented me as evil. That
was a textbook example of hypocrisy. In the same breath, they
were ignoring the right to
life of countless millions of future climate change victims in
developing countries -- as if those people neither existed nor
mattered. What could be more evil than that?
The right to life of those people was obviously what my
text was about (first page). Children in developing countries
really are on death row: they really will die prematurely with a
certain probability, and we (with our emissions and denial) are really
the cause of their future deaths. When will that message get through?
How loud does one have to scream before people get it?
people who carry the most responsibility for the human consequences of
climate change are the most influential climate deniers of the past few
decades. If the size of a crime is
measured only by the number of deaths it causes, climate
change may be considered the greatest crime in human history. What
punishment is appropriate for the worst criminals ever? If the death
penalty is out of the question (as it should be), it is important first
of all to end the death penalty everywhere. If the climate deniers of
the world agreed with that, they would be at the forefront of
international anti-death-penalty activism. But they are not.
Evidently, many people still haven’t clicked that Black Lives
Matter. The message may have reached their heads, but it is still
waiting for the journey into their hearts. As an example of how
important but difficult this journey is, consider the case of the
Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, who in late 2018 and early 2019 pushed
global climate action forward like almost no one else before or since.
She did that by courageously telling truth to power. I am her
greatest fan. I cannot express how much gratitude I feel toward her and
all the other young leaders who have recently emerged in the struggle
for humanity's future. But even Greta's truth
was incomplete, because even she had not (at the time of writing)
mentioned the main future victims of climate change, namely children in
What actually happened
I made the final changes to my blog in October 2012, there are several
important things that I did not know or could not anticipate:
the blog as soon as the first complaints started to arrive just
before Christmas 2012. In
retrospect, that was inappropriate. How can one apologize for
defending the right to life of a billion people?
it could be found in Google Cache after I deleted it.
it would then "go viral".
people on both sides of the debate would misuse it for their own
the global climate denial community had many years of experience in the
art of attacking climate researchers (more),
especially those with the
courage to publish uncomforable truths.
neither academics nor the media were very good at identifying and
ignoring climate deniers.
I apologized not only because of the wild, crazy
accusations of the deniers, but also because of the ambiguous response
from some of the smart, caring people whom I had expected to support
me. Evidently, the world was not yet ready for this kind of truth. (Is
it ready now?)
The deletion was in vain. The blog was discovered and posted against my
will at a new address. That's how I
that "the internet never forgets". The sensational reactions that
followed in the media and climate denial blogs referred exclusively to
that had been withdrawn and deleted.
I then became a victim of cybermobbing. In a globalized game of Chinese
whispers, in which quasi-randomly
climate deniers and boulevard media reporters were the players,
exaggerated interpretations of my text were re-exaggerated in a
self-reinforcing crescendo. Climate
deniers reported on their webpages that I wanted to kill them and
exhorted each other to send me their thoughts by email.
I wasn't the first to find myself in a situation of this kind. Some
three years later, a well-known climate denier
sent me a list of people who had suggested legal responses to climate
denial, including (in his interpretation) the death
penalty. Presumably they were all attacked in a similar way. The
statements were dated 2007, 2008, 2010 and 2012 (not
including my text). Some argued that climate denial is a form
treason, for which the penalty in USA is still death (as if
Middle Ages had never ended). Others argued that influential climate
denial is a crime against humanity, for which (in some interpretations,
but not that of the International Criminal Court) the penalty is death.
was accused of a shopping list of things that I
never did. I should have expected that. I was
deniers, and lying is what they do for a living -- on behalf of, and
funded by, the rich fossil fuel industry. Besides, I can hardly
accuse the deniers of exaggerating when I did so myself. Many
climate deniers are also experienced
bullies, having attacked climate scientists in the past. The "crime" of
those climate scientists, like my "crime", was to dare to tell the
truth about climate change and climate denial in public, and the
staggering future consequences, especially for developing
wonder the deniers were upset. My
blog exposed their massive guilt. They reacted by
applying their carefully acquired skills in truth
distortion, combining cyberbullying
Their attempt to make me look guilty and evil was a strategy
attention from their own guilt and malice. Well, they can try as hard
as they like to ruin my reputation, but I am not about to give up
defending the fundamental rights of a billion people.
uproar was surprising
when you consider that I had presented an idea that most
people in the world, and even most people in liberal Western Europe,
would immediately agree with: to limit
the death penalty to people who cause enormous numbers of deaths. I
merely considered the
implications, asking which
people in the world might be candidates if the death penalty were
limited in this way.
were as shocked as I was by my conclusions. But it was my
intention to shock, in the hope that the world's most important
problems would at last be taken seriously. Wake up, world. Hopefully,
many people realised (perhaps even for the first time) that
climate denial is the most important social and political force behind
climate change, (ii) climate change will probably indirectly kill
hundreds of millions of people, if not billions, and (iii) the death
never justified. A new
formulation of this argument can be found here.
People expected me to defend myself. I
was reluctant to do so, because the lives of hundreds of
millions of children in developing countries are obviously more
important than my reputation. If I was going to defend
anything, it was the basic rights of an enormous number of
people. That is also what my self-righteous
critics should have done -- and should still be doing.
A thought experiment
At the end of 2012, I guess some 200 people objected publicly
my text, claiming or assuming incorrectly that I had “called
for” the death penalty for influential climate deniers.
half of them contributed to internet blogs and the other half wrote
Imagine what would have happened if those 200 people had actually read
my statement -- not just the title, omitting the question mark, but the
whole thing. What if they had actually thought about it and understood
what it was really about? Imagine those 200 light bulbs lighting up.
Those 200 pennies finally dropping.
Now imagine those 200 people apologizing for their previous postings or
emails and instead objecting publicly to the future premature deaths of
a billion people in developing countries. Imagine them explaining the
indirect causal role of influential climate deniers, but also of all
residents of richer countries, in those future deaths. Imagine those
200 people understanding how we, every day, take advantage of an unfair
global economic system, and on top of that emit too much greenhouse
gas, and how that makes us responsible for the present and future
avoidable death toll in developing countries.
If that is hard to imagine, let's instead try to imagine just ten of
those people objecting publicly to the mega-fatal future consequences
of climate denial. Still hard to imagine? Perhaps just one person? This
line of thought raises an interesting question: Does anyone at all care
enough about this to be honest about it? Does anyone have the courage
to break the ice? Or have we all secretly agreed in some kind of global
conspiracy to avoid talking publicly about our guilt?
From this brief analysis, and regarding my 2012 text as a kind of
social experiment, designed to find out who if anyone has seriously
considered these issues, we can now formulate our conclusions. Many
people consider the life of an influential climate denier to be roughly
a million times more important than the life of a person living in
poverty in a developing country whose life will be shortened as a
result of climate denial. A million times! We know this because most
participants in the public discussion of my text were more unhappy
about the possible death of an influential climate denier than the
million deaths that that person apparently caused. In fact, the million
victims were not even mentioned.
Now imagine asking those 200 people what they think of the following
claim: Every human life has the same value, regardless of skin color,
gender, wealth, age, religion, and so on. Presumably, they would all
agree. Of course, they would say, it's obvious.
Are we going to start talking about this? Or do we prefer to keep our
heads in the sand? An alien visitor from outer space would be
astonished at the difference between what humans say about morality and
what they actually do. A million to one! The hypocrisy is truly
The Catholic condom ban
The idea of "death penalty for the pope" was obviously absurd and I
included it in my text only in passing, as an explanatory
It exposed a contradiction that is inherent
in the opinions of death-penalty supporters, many of whom are
Christians: if the death penalty is
appropriate for the most serious crimes, what are those crimes exactly?
Surely anyone who has indirectly caused the deaths of milllions of
people (e.g. by not ending the Catholic condom ban in the 1980s) is a
candidate? Since the 1980s, over 30 million people have died from AIDS.
The discussion about Catholic paedophilia has made steady
progress, although it is surely not over yet. But there has
almost no mention of the human-rights
implications of the Catholic condom ban, without
which millions of
AIDS victims would still be alive today. Tragically, neither the church
nor the general public has found the courage to talk about this
openly and honestly. Denial is not the answer. The ban is presumably
still indirectly causing thousands of AIDS deaths every year. The Wikipedia
page on this topic is informative but biased, because so few
people have the courage to defend the rights of the victims.
is religious hypocrisy at his worst: preaching universal love while at
the same time indirectly causing massive suffering and death.
Christians should read their Bibles, which incidentally say nothing at
all about contraception but a lot about moral courage (more),
and imagine what Jesus would say about the condom ban if he was here
death penalty is another case of Christian hypocrisy that Jesus would
surely have exposed. How can a modern Christian be a
death-penalty supporter, as countless millions of Americans are, when (i)
Christianity is supposed to be about
universal love and forgiveness, and (ii) the death
penalty caused the world's greatest
tragedy from a Christian perspective, namely the death of Jesus? The
Old Testament contains many references to the death penalty, explaining
when it should be applied according to ancient laws and practices. But
the whole point of Christianity is that the teachings of Christ
challenged Old Testament law and exposed its hypocrisy, as a Christian
internet source explains:
New Testament does not have any specific teachings about capital
punishment. However, the Old Testament ideas of punishment became
secondary to Jesus' message of love and redemption. Both reward and
punishment are seen as properly taking place in eternity, rather than
in this life.
It's surely as simple as that? Incidentally, I may be atheist but I am
neither anti-religious nor anti-Catholic. On
the contrary, my best friends and colleagues tend to have an altruistic
orientation and for that reason have always included Christians. The
Western music that I study in my research and perform in my spare time
is a wonderful byproduct of Christian history. I acquired musical
skills by performing Christian music. Moreover, I am fascinated by the
richness and diversity of the world's religious rituals. Trying to
understand their psychology is one of my research areas.
recent years, Pope Francis has been defending the rights of the global
and opposing climate change at the highest level, for which he deserves
everyone's admiration and support. At the same time, he is failing to
introduce urgently needed reforms. Ending the condom ban is one. More
generally, all forms of discrimination, based for example on gender or
sexual orientation, should be ended, consistent with the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights. For those who believe the Bible contains
absolute truth, enough evidence can be found. Many
scriptures point toward gender
equality. While the Bible is unclear about homosexuality,
many passages oppose discrimination
of any kind.
Three premises, one
The argument that I presented in 2012 can be interpreted in
different ways. One approach is to consider the logical
relationship between premises and conclusion. Consider the
Premise 1. About
half of the
people in the world still consider the death penalty to be justified
for the most serious crimes. We know this from surveys; the exact
proportion depends on how you ask the question. Changing their minds is
one of today's great challenges.
Premise 2. The
crimes are those in which one person knowingly causes enormous numbers
of deaths. This should be obvious from a human rights perspective, in
which every life has the same value. One could also estimate the amount
of suffering or the number of (quality) life-years lost, but that would
not significantly change the present argument.
Premise 3. The
climate deniers are causing or have caused enormous numbers of future
deaths. Those deaths will occur, for example, as the future death toll
in connection with poverty in developing countries rises in response to
multiple side-effects of climate change. Deniers cause future deaths by
hindering projects that would otherwise slow climate change. Many
people reject this logic, of course, and many others have not thought
about it. I have been
trying in vain for years to discover valid counterarguments.
If all three premises are true, then for those people who (erroneously)
believe in the death penalty for the most serious crimes (premise 1),
"death penalty for the most influential climate deniers" is merely a
Needless to say, I am opposed to this conclusion, because I am opposed
to premise 1. In general, the conclusion can be changed if we
change any one of the three premises.
Changing premise 1 means convincing death penalty supporters that the
death penalty is never justified. That is the aim of anything that I
have ever written about the death penalty. The outraged public reaction
to my 2012 blog suggested that I made some progress. First,
many climate deniers realized that the death penalty is never
justified, after imagining being candidates themselves. Second, others
who normally never mention human rights suddenly started to talk about
I don’t believe premise 2 can be questioned. From a human rights
perspective, it is obviously correct, and I am not aware of any other
Nor do I believe premise 3 can be changed. The deniers will continue to
deny the causal connections, of course. Their behavior is complex and
resists a simple explanation. According to psychological
theory of moral development, some of them are immature
(selfish, dishonest, opportunist, irresponsible). Others may be
gullible or lacking in skills of critical
thinking. In any case, the law should expose and punish such
profound examples of irresponsibility, to protect the rights of others.
However hard they try, the deniers cannot change the logical
relationship between the above conclusion and premises. Nor can they
blame me or anyone else for pointing this out. I did not
create this situation! I could cite literature to
that all elements of the argument that I presented in 2012 existed in
advance. I merely put
together the pieces of the jigsaw, and then found the courage to defend
the right to life of a billion people.
The legal principle of
In my scandalous blog, I proposed limiting
the death penalty to people who cause a
million deaths. My whole text
revolved that point. The
was to attract attention to the massive human cost of climate
billion human lives are really on the line. My story about the death
may have been fiction, but the victims of climate change really will
There was an interesting twist. If such a proposal were
accepted internationally, the result would probably be what we
anti-death-penalty activists have been working toward for decades: the
total end of the death
penalty. First, all
criminals on death row in all countries would be saved.
with the possible consequences of implementing the new agreement, even
hard-core death-penalty supporters would
change their minds. The penny would finally drop.
penny might drop, too. People might finally realise that for political
reasons the death penalty can never be applied according to
legal principle of proportionality in
criminal law -- the idea that the
size of a punishment should reflect the size of the crime. It would
become clear that there are people in
our midst who knowingly but indirectly cause enormous numbers of
deaths, but are never prosecuted. Others are executed for smaller
crimes such as murder (of one person), drug trafficking, rape,
blasphemy, treason, and
so on. If the death penalty is not being
applied proportionally, it
should not be applied at all.
My idea of
limiting the death penalty to people who cause a
million deaths was
also based on the equal
value of every
human life. Therefore, you can
measure the size
of a crime by estimating the number of lives that it ended prematurely.
Both proportionality and human value are accepted
quasi-universally, so their combination should also be
to this criterion, influential climate
denial is one of the few most serious crimes of all time. This
realisation has very serious consequences for those many people who are
influential climate deniers and supporters of the death penalty. They
have a choice: either stop denying climate change or stop supporting
the death penalty. I warmly recommend doing both.
Many death penalty supporters already agree
that the seriousness of a crime
depends on the number
of deaths caused. Some legal scholars are
still proposing the death penalty as punishment
for genocide (more).
Others claim that the perpetrator
the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, Timothy McVeigh, "deserved" the death
penalty because of the large number of people killed (168).
with these arguments is that the death penalty will not achieve
It will not bring the dead back to life, nor will it prevent similar
tragedies in the future. Those who support the
death penalty claim that it is
deter the most serious crimes, but empirical studies have provided
both for and against that proposition. Careful statistical
analyses of relevant variables in different US states failed to find a
significant effect (more).
both the size of a crime and the size of the punishment are to be
proportional to the number of people killed, and if these
are to be applied consistently, it should be clear even to
death-penalty supporters that most death sentences
should be commuted. Hopefully the
international discussion will begin soon. The situation could not be
more urgent: according to Amnesty
Chinese government is still secretly killing over one thousand of its
own citizens every year.
Making denial illegal
In the unprecedented case of
global warming, the law seems unable to enforce natural law
and defend natural
rights, according to which every
natural person has the same
basic rights, of which the most
important is the right
to life. It is not
law to go to court in one
country and defend the right to life of a billion
children in other countries. Altruism is not recognized.
But that is not the only legal problem. In general, lying is
not illegal. Liars are held to be exercising their freedom
which in the US is upheld by the first amendment to the constitution.
The situation in Europe is only slightly better. Thus,
influential climate deniers are often considered
legally innocent. They have a right to disagree with the scientific
But lying is not always legal. In the USA, it is illegal to impersonate
or lie to a federal agent, make a false claim, or swear a false oath
(perjury). Various kinds of fraud are illegal including health care and
mail. Libel and slander are also illegal. The supreme court explained
that these exceptions involve knowing
or reckless falsehood. That surely applies also to climate denial.
legal traditions may fail to recognize that the right
to life is more important than freedom of speech, and that rights can
only be exercised insofar as they don't infringe other, more important
rights. If "everyone is equal
before the law", every
human life has the same value, such that a million lives are a million
times more valuable than one life. Infringements
of basic rights that involve larger numbers of people
(here, millions or billions) are obviously much more important than
smaller numbers, everyone being equal before the law.
Therefore, lies such as holocaust denial or climate denial, if
influential enough, should belong to the worst possible crimes.
According to the principle of proportionality, they should attract the
most severe punishments.
If Holocaust denial
can be made
illegal, so can climate denial. A legal
foundation to protect the rights
of children in developing countries already exists, namely the
Declaration of Human Rights. It is widely respected and
implemented in many
different ways in many national legal systems.
overriding importance of these
issues, you would expect to see a public discussion. The
profession should be addressing these issues now, while we still have
time to achieve some kind of justice.
the right to
have the highest priority. This also implies, yet again, that the death
climate deniers cannot be held responsible
for crimes against humanity (and the
legal profession has so far made little progress in that direction),
then it is hard to imagine how the basic rights of a billion people
can be protected. In that case, the law will have failed spectacularly.
I am unaware of anyone who has estimated the number of deaths that an
influential climate denier can cause. However many writers have
approached the topic from
Jean Ziegler has argued that every child who dies of hunger is
murdered. While I have the greatest respect and admiration for his
courageous and inspiring contribution, I disagree with the use of the
word "murder" in this context. There is an important difference between
negligence, however extreme, and murder. (The special status of the
Holocaust by comparison to other massive crimes involves the
premeditated nature of the killing.) But Ziegler is right that most of
those dying children (and they are dying right now as I write and you
read this — what could be more horrific than that?) could
been saved if we in the rich countries had bothered in the past few
decades to create a fair global economic system. In the future, those
children will die because right now we are not bothering to stop global
warming. I guess an appropriate term for this extreme form of
negligence is “indirect killing”.
Philosopher John Nolt, author of an influential 2015 book on
environmental ethics, wrote a paper in 2011 entitled “How
Are the Average American's Greenhouse Gas Emissions?” in
calculated that the emissions of the average American today are killing
or seriously harming one or two future people. If that was not a
wake-up call for every rich or middle-class person in every rich or
almost-rich country, I don't know what it. But hardly anyone knows
about this very important piece of work. Nolt should be a household
In her book "Merchants of Doubt", Historian Naomi Oreskes brilliantly
documented the actions of past climate deniers. It will be a great day
in the history of law and justice when the main culprits are tried
according to the evidence that she and others have painstakingly
collected. If the trial is fair, they will presumably find themselves
behind bars for the rest of their lives. Oreskes should also be a
In the past few years, the frequency of news reports that consider the
present and future fatal consequences of climate change has been
rising. That is a promising development. In an article published in
September 2017, Mark Hertsgaard realized that “Climate
is literally killing us”. I like this article, but disagree
two points. First Hertsgaard uses the word
the climate deniers do not intend to kill anyone. Second, the number of
people who will die in the future as a result of today's
denialism is much higher than his implied estimates. We are talking
about hundreds of millions and possibly billions.
My favorite journalist is George Monbiot. A long time ago, in
a discussion transcribed and published in May 2007, he said:
We Don’t Deal with Climate Change We Condemn Hundreds of
of People to Death”. The capital letters mean the comment
The more people have the courage to talk about this problem directly,
the more it will be taken seriously. But we are still a long way from
considering the true human consequences of influential climate
denial. It seems that most people are in denial about that
— a form of meta-denial. We are living our lives as if this
not happening or as if we didn’t know about it. As if we were
The bottom line
In closing, allow me to make two main points.
We are talking about a
future victims of global warming are
today's children in developing countries. They really exist, right now.
They are not
"future generations", although of course future generations are also
important. The lives of a billion children living right now really will
be shortened by global
warming, which in plain English means that global warming will kill them, which
means our emissions are
killing them, which means we
are killing them. That
these claims follow logically from one another is obvious; the example
could be straight from a philosophy textbook. The shocking nature of
these statements changes nothing about their truth content (whether
they are true is independent of whether they are shocking). If
actively suppress such claims or statements, we are engaging in denial
(which also follows logically from the previous statements). But we
have known about these causal relationships for several decades, and
there has never been a good excuse for denying them.
This is the most
important issue in current politics.
If we assume that every human life has the same value, and apply risk
assessment theory and order-of-magnitude estimates to this problem in a
rational way, we see that global warming, upon which everything on this
planet depends, is probably more serious that all other
comparable problems of global proportions, such as for example the
wealth gap, the risk of nuclear
holocaust, the risk of a genetically
manipulated pandemic, loss of biodiversity and holocene
extinction (the earth's sixth mass extinction event, this
time caused by humans), or the implications of land
degradation for future food production.
It is time for the legal profession, and everyone else, to realise that
humans need food and fresh water to survive,
and global warming will irreversibly reduce both for a large proportion
of the world's growing population. The result willl be the greatest
tragedy humanity has every experienced.
not too late to prevent this mega-catastrophe, but if we are not
careful, it soon will be. The way things are going, we will
back on the 2010s as the decade in which we missed the last opportunity
to save ourselves.
from selected emails
following texts were copied verbatim, with permission of the
authors, from emails that I received
during December 2012 and January 2013. I do not necessarily
with the details of these statements, even if they generally support my
argument regarding the death
penalty is an extreme view but I am
sympathetic. I was more surprised by how vituperative and ignorant some
people have been in response. Good on you for pointing out how research
is carried out, the motivation of scientists and the implications for
"I am always amazed how people, the so-called climate sceptics among
them, find it difficult to cope with doubts and uncertainties such as
those that you showed in your text. You gave expression to an important
moral dilemma: on one hand the refusal to kill, and the freedom of
expression, and on the other hand the fact that people make obviously
very wrong decisions that affect us all and that you want to stop. And
so they pounce on some words, take them out of context and suddenly you
seem to advocate a totalitarian view. Ah well..."
‘At any given moment
is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas
which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without
question. It is not exactly forbidden to say this, that or the other,
but it is “not done” to say it, just as in
mid-Victorian times it was “not done” to mention
trousers in the presence of a lady. Anyone who challenges the
prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising
effectiveness. A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given
a fair hearing, either in the popular press or in the highbrow
--- George Orwell, "Freedom of the Press", unprinted introduction to
Animal Farm, first printed, ed. Bernard Crick, Times Literary
Supplement, September 15, 1972: p. 1040."
am sure you know best, that you
haven't done your masterpiece with
this article, but your intentions were good and pure. Everybody, who
knows you, knows that you are a good and honest man. As your article
shows you are also passionate about the future of your children and of
whole the mankind."
"I just wanted to let you know that I think it was a really good idea
publish your thoughts on the page of the university. I saw the death
penalty as a metapher for "this should have consequences", nothing
else…and there are no organizations on the world that caused
more pain, deaths and wars than religions. You might have read
“god is not great”…I’m really
happy someone who a few people listen too has addressed at least one
very critical topic."
you for the interesting
article. It's a sad world where you can't
even make a logical argument any more..."
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